A COLORIZED scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause TB. — Image via National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health/Flickr

THERE WAS a 57% gap between estimated and notified cases of tuberculosis (TB) in the Philippines in 2020 as TB-related health services were disrupted due to the coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and reversed the gains of previous decades, according to the National Tuberculosis Program’s (NTP) 2021 report.  

The exceptions are Bicol and the Province of Apayao, whose NTP units earned gold awards for recording the highest tuberculosis testing rates in the second quarter of 2021.   

A spokesperson for the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) said this was achieved through the multisectoral approach it adopted in close coordination with the Department of Health (DoH) and non-government organizations.  

“This was made possible through the concerted effort and support of the municipal and provincial government of Apayao,” said Lealyn S. Badongen, NTP nurse coordinator of the CAR’s DoH Center for Health Development, in an e-mail to BusinessWorld. “This institutionalized convergence of agencies in the implementation of public health programs allowed us to meet our targets amid the pandemic.”  

A fixed funding mechanism is only one of several factors that can improve testing rates, a spokesperson for the DoH-NTP told BusinessWorld. Other factors that also contribute to such include strengthened policies and health systems capacity.  

Cognizant of the difficulties posed by the ongoing mobility restrictions, the DoH and its international partners are thus recognizing regions and local government units that have continued TB care and services despite the pandemic through the Race to End TB Awards.  

“Timely and accurate diagnostic testing is the gateway to proper TB care and treatment,” DoH Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said in a ceremony that recognized the award winners.  

Per the NTP’s 2021 report, the repurposing of TB testing sites for COVID-19 testing, lack of manpower, and a lack of personal protective equipment are some of the reasons for the underachievement of population testing last year.  

The Race to End TB online dashboard records the TB testing rates of Apayao and Bicol as 0.53% and 0.21%, respectively. This translates to 53 out of every 100 persons in Apayao, and 21 out of 100 in Bicol. Population testing rate is defined as the proportion of the population who are tested for TB through WHO-recommended diagnostic testing. This is calculated as number of tested divided by total population.  

A gold award was also given to the Bicol Center for Health Development for garnering the highest enrolment rate of bacteriologically-confirmed TB (BCTB) at 48.6%. Recognized too for their performance in the same category were Davao del Sur and the municipalities of Albuera (Leyte), Villaba (Leyte), and Kolambugan (Lanao del Norte).  

Gold awards were likewise given to Region VIII and Region X for their treatment success rate in drug-resistant TB (DRTB) and TB preventive treatment (TPT), respectively. Other best-performing local government units (LGUs) for DRTB treatment success rates include the provinces of Leyte, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, and Sultan Kudarat, and the municipalities of Palo (Leyte), Basud (Camarines Norte), and Cainta (Rizal).   

Two other LGUs — Iligan City and the municipality of Alitagtag (Batangas) — were recognized for their TB preventive treatment.  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2020, eight countries — including the Philippines — account for two-thirds of the total incidence of the disease worldwide.  

In the world’s poorest countries, excess deaths from TB could exceed those from the coronavirus itself, said Peter Sands, executive director of the Geneva-based aid body known as the Global Fund.     

Among the preventive measures for stopping the spread of TB are making a home well-ventilated, finishing the medications prescribed, and reducing the stigma that discourages people from getting tested in the first place. — Patricia B. Mirasol